Ain't no hurdle high enough for Tina Cook

PUBLISHED: 11:30 28 September 2009 | UPDATED: 16:16 20 February 2013

Eventing Olympian Tina Cook talks to Sussex Life

Eventing Olympian Tina Cook talks to Sussex Life

Eventing Olympian Tina Cook talks to Joanne Sindall about her home, family, the future and, of course, all those medals

Originally published in Sussex Life magazine May 2009

Eventing Olympian Tina Cook talks to Joanne Sindall about her home, family, the future and, of course, all those medals

IT IS no surprise that Tina Cook forged a successful equestrian career. Her father, Josh Gifford, was four-times champion jockey and National Hunt trainer who saddled more than 1,500 winners. Her mother, Althea Roger-Smith, was a successful international show jumper who won the Queen Elizabeth Cup, came second in the Hickstead Derby and represented Great Britain in the Nations Cup. By the time Tina was born both her parents were training racehorses.

Tina's younger brother Nick went on to follow in his father's footsteps and they are all based with their parents at the famous Downs Stables in Findon, West Sussex. "I wouldn't want to live anywhere else in the world," says Tina.

"I'm 38 years old and I have lived here all my life. We live on the edge of the Downs and I can walk out of my front door and I'm straight out into the countryside. Equally, if I want to walk the other way I can go straight into the village."

Tina took up Eventing soon after leaving school and with numerous successes to date, she's probably best known for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she brought home two bronze medals. Following two top three placings in an advanced three-day event at the end of 2007, Tina found herself in the line-up for the Olympics. She went on to perform an outstanding clear round in the team jumping competition on her horse, Minor's Frolic, who is also known as Henry, helping to secure a team bronze medal. She began the individual round in seventh place and jumped a perfect clear round moving her up the leader board to the bronze medal position - taking home a double bronze.

"It was like a dream," she says. "I think as you get older you learn to really appreciate those moments and I really wanted to be there. I kept saying to myself, 'Just remember this feeling, just stand there and look around and just absorb everything that is going on around you.' I did get quite emotional. It was unexpected as I didn't think I was going to get the opportunity to fulfil my Olympic dream."

As well as running the Eventing business to a world-class standard, she also helps out her brother Nick Gifford with his racehorses. Nick took over the training when their father retired four years ago. "Nick and I discuss the horses, their fitness and injuries," says Tina. "We work very much as a team and run ideas by each other. I use my experience of training Event horses with some of the racehorses by helping with their physique and jumping."

Tina is extremely in tune with horses. She enjoys the training process on the racehorses as well as her own: "All my life I've trained horses at the top level," she says. "I have produced seven horses to championship team level and trained them all from scratch myself and I'm very proud of that."

On top of that, Tina is a mother of two, Isabelle, aged four, and Harry, two. Tina and her husband Phil married in 2001, and the family live in converted stable lads' accommodation on Tina's parents' land. Their relationship allows them both to focus on their sporting passions. Tina explains: "Phil is not a horsey man at all - he loves golf. I go off competing at weekends and he goes off to play golf.

I don't expect him to come and watch me ride horses all day and equally he doesn't expect me to watch him play golf, so we give each other
the freedom."

So how does she fit it all in? "It's very difficult and a lot of hard work. I am very lucky in that I have a nanny, Liz, who helps four days a week. I'm able to have this help purely down to lottery funding I've received thanks to my Olympic success with Minor's Frolic." This allows her the freedom to be completely focused on the horses.

Tina's hopes for the future remain at the top, "It would be amazing to make it to 2012. Minor's Frolic is a young enough horse and he should be there and going for gold," saysTina. "But that is still three years away and who knows what can happen between now and then."

Tina is hoping to compete at Brightling Park International Horse Trials in West Sussex with some of her younger horses this year. "It suits me because my horses are all thoroughbred types and quite fit and all the courses there are testing cross-country ones set on the side of a hill."
So does Tina ever have time to relax with her friends? "I do make time for girls' nights out but my friends do get frustrated with me, although they know I'm running around like a mad woman.

"But if I do have spare time I enjoy spending time with my children as obviously they are incredibly important to me and it can't just be all work, work, work. But I do like having girls' nights out every fortnight for a good old catch-up."

Tina Cook's top tips to become a champion

  • Work hard and be dedicated.
  • Be flexible with your hours and expect long delays.
  • Enjoy the good moments: it's a fabulous life when it all works well.
  • If you work hard you can make a living.
  • Be in control of your emotions.
  • Find balance - work with the horse: if something isn't working don't lose your temper with the horse, find another approach.
  • Be open-minded and flexible in your training: each horse is different so find out what works for each one


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